Shadow of the Moon
Review by Jenna Jaxon
Recently, I began re-reading M. M. Kaye’s romance Shadow of the Moon (probably about the 8th time I’ve read it—my first copy fell apart) and while the love story is as wonderful as it ever was, and the descriptions of India are truly magnificent—you can believe you are there—the writing style, jumps out at me as having a lot of things I’ve been taught not to do. How does one judge a work that was written in a different time, with different stylistic expectations?
Shadow of the Moon, set in England and India in the years leading up to the India Mutiny of 1857, is the story of young Winter de Ballesteros, born of an English woman and a Spaniard who met and fell in love in India. Winter is orphaned almost from infancy and raised in a wealthy Indian household. At age six, she is sent back to her relatives in England, where she lives, unappreciated, until she returns to India to marry a distant relative, a Commissioner of the Indian state of Lunjore, she met once and who she has romanticized into a shining knight, able to return her to the wonderful life she remembered there. The Commissioner’s handsome aide, Alex Randall, reluctantly escorts Winter to India, hoping his charge will have the sense to break the engagement when she discovers the truth about her betrothed.
Winter’s dream shatters when she realizes—too late—her knight in shining armor is an older, drunken, debauched man who is only after her wealth. Now trapped in a loveless marriage in the midst of a foreign country on the brink of a violent explosion, Winter works together with Alex to try to prevent the crisis and deny their feelings for one another. In the aftermath of the brutal mutiny, more dangers threaten Alex and Winter and their future happiness.
I have loved this book, as well as Kaye’s masterpiece The Far Pavillions, since I first read them, though I did wonder how the writing would hold up now that I read as a writer moreso than a reader. Written in 1956, Shadow of Moon includes several things no longer acceptable in the romance genre: head-hopping, a third person narrator, and pages of backstory on the politics and history of 18th and 19th century India. The head-hopping, changing point of view from character to character is constant throughout the book, though after a while it no longer bothered me. The use of a third person narrator helps both with the historical perspective and with the lack of deep POV from the hero and heroine. Again, it takes some getting used to, but as the book is 800 pages long, you come to embrace it along the way. The historical/political backstory, however, I found myself skipping over in great chunks in favor of getting to the romance. I do not believe the reader’s enjoyment of the book is in any way compromised by doing this and if one finds such things fascinating, it is wonderful contextual reading.
I do recommend this book to lovers of historical romance. Both Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavillions have made me put a trip to India on my bucket list of things to do. I would love to see some of these storybook palaces, ride horseback on the plains, experience a colorful bazaar myself and in some tangible way relive these masterful stories first hand.